Lockwood, a tenant at Thrushcross Grange, visits his landlord Mr. Heathcliff, but is received coldly. Upon Lockwood’s second visit, Heathcliff is not at his manor known as Wuthering Heights, so Lockwood leaves, but as he makes his way through the snow, he is attacked by dogs, forcing him to spend the night in a forbidden room of Heathcliff’s. He is visited by the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw, and after crying out in terror, Heathcliff rushes into the room where he finds no signs that the ghost was ever present. Back home, Nelly Dean, Lockwood’s housekeeper, clarifies the family relationships at Wuthering Heights, explaining that the young Catherine (referred to in this SparkNote as Cathy) is the daughter of Catherine Earnshaw, and that Hareton Earnshaw is Catherine Earnshaw’s nephew. Nelly explains that Mr. Earnshaw, fed up by the conflict between Heathcliff and Hindley, decided to send Hindley away to college, and after Mr. Earnshaw died, Catherine and Heathcliff turned to religion for comfort, while awaiting the return of Hindley, who would be the master of Wuthering Heights.
Nelly continues her story by sharing how Hindley and his wife Frances returned to Wuthering Heights and made Heathcliff work the fields like a common laborer. After playing with Catherine one day, Heathcliff returned home without Catherine, and when Mr. Linton arrived at Wuthering Heights and scolded Hindley for his mismanagement of Catherine, Hindley forbade Heathcliff from having further contact with her. After Catherine spent weeks recuperating at the Grange and learning how to be a lady, the Lintons arrived at Wuthering Heights for dinner, but Heathcliff was locked away. Nelly’s story continues with the birth of Hindley’s son, Hareton, and the death of Frances, and she reveals the budding romance between Catherine and Edgar, their eventual marriage, and how Heathcliff ran away from Wuthering Heights after hearing Catherine say that she cannot marry Heathcliff because of his low status.
Lockwood falls ill but demands to know the rest of Nelly’s story, in which she tells how Heathcliff, now an impressive gentleman, returned to Wuthering Heights after Catherine’s marriage to Edgar, how Isabella fell in love with Heathcliff, and about a heated confrontation between Heathcliff, Catherine, and Edgar regarding Heathcliff’s relationship with both Catherine and Isabella, whom Edgar forbade from pursuing Heathcliff. Afterward, Catherine became ill and subsequently pregnant, Isabella and Heathcliff eloped, and Isabella wrote to Nelly for help, explaining that Wuthering Heights was unbearable and that Hindley had a mad obsession with Heathcliff, who had obtained the position of power at Wuthering Heights. Nelly visited Isabella, but after she forbade Heathcliff to visit Catherine, Heathcliff threatened that he would hold Nelly prisoner, forcing Nelly to carry a letter to Catherine.
Before Catherine could open Heathcliff’s letter, Heathcliff appeared and they entered into a highly charged conversation during which Catherine claimed that both Heathcliff and Edgar broke her heart. When Edgar returned home, Heathcliff was forced to wait outside where he heard word from Nelly that Catherine gave birth and died. Shortly after, Isabella arrived and told Nelly about how Heathcliff and Hindley nearly killed one another. Isabella then left for London where she gave birth to Heathcliff’s son, Linton, and corresponded with Nelly throughout the following years. Hindley eventually died, leaving Heathcliff as the owner of Wuthering Heights, where he planned to raise Hareton on his own. Upon learning that Isabella was dying, Edgar hurried to London to take charge of young Linton; however, this allowed young Cathy, now thirteen, to sneak away from Thrushcross Grange and meet Hareton. When Edgar returned with Linton, Heathcliff was determined to take possession of his son, which Edgar agreed to.
Cathy, now sixteen, visits Wuthering Heights and learns of her cousins, and when she tells her father about the visit, Edgar tries to explain why he has kept her relatives secret, allowing Cathy to understand Edgar’s disdain for Heathcliff. All the while, Cathy exchanges letters with Linton until Nelly discovers their correspondence and calls it off. After Edgar falls ill and Cathy is reproached by Heathcliff for toying with Linton’s heart, Cathy begins traveling in secret to be with Linton. Edgar says that if marrying Linton would make his daughter happy, he would allow their marriage, regardless of the fact that it would mean Heathcliff would inherit Thrushcross Grange. When Cathy and Nelly ride to their meeting with Linton at the moors, they instead find him frail and weak near Wuthering Heights, insisting that his health is improving, a statement that Cathy and Nelly worry over.
The next time Nelly and Cathy ride to meet with Linton, they are apprehended by Heathcliff who locks them inside the house until Cathy has married Linton. Nelly is freed by Zillah, the housekeeper, at which point Nelly hurries back to Thrushcross Grange where she tells the dying Edgar that Cathy is safe and will be home soon. After Edgar’s funeral, Heathcliff forbids Nelly from visiting Wuthering Heights, which forces Nelly to ask Zillah about the state of the manor. Nelly learns that Cathy tended to Linton by herself until he died, and that the only thing that can save Cathy from her moroseness is another marriage. Lockwood, later writing in his diary, says that he has heard the end of Nelly’s story, and that he has decided to not spend another winter in this strange company.
After a time away from the moors, Lockwood returns and writes about his experience. In particular, he writes that Heathcliff became more solitary and after an incident at breakfast, he began spending nights walking in the dark and returning in a strange mood, until eventually he asked everyone to leave Wuthering Heights and died shortly thereafter. Later, Lockwood is told by Nelly that Cathy and Hareton have married and are due to move into Thrushcross Grange. Lockwood discovers the graves of Edgar, Catherine, and Heathcliff.